Theresa Rabe

Deputy Director of Human Resources, The County of San Mateo

Supernova Award Category: 

Future of Work - Employee Experience

The Organization: 

Located in the nexus of innovation in Northern California, the County of San Mateo is home to leading software, gaming, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies. With over 5,500 employees, the County provides a broad range of services to its residents, including social services, public health protection, housing programs, public safety, and elections. True to its roots being in the hub of innovation, the County also strives to innovate in providing services to its employees, and part of that is promoting a culture of continuous learning. “Curiosity is the cornerstone of innovation,” declared Theresa Rabe, Deputy Director of Human Resources, sharing the vision of enabling and empowering employees at every level with learning opportunities tailored to their needs.

The Problem: 
In early 2019, the County realized the need to overhaul its training due to the evolving face of today’s workforce with significantly different expectations – one, the increase in millennials and Gen Zs, and two, a projected wave of manager retirements in the near future which necessitated careful succession planning. Against that backdrop, the County of San Mateo researched, evaluated, and piloted expanded learning offerings through Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) in the second half of 2019. Little did the County realize that CCA would also become an essential tool in solving a different but critical problem, beginning in 2020.
Anytime, anywhere. In early 2020, COVID-19 drastically disrupted the workflow and work environment for the thousands of County employees required to work from home. As with other public and private entities, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid and unexpected change in the working environment for thousands of County employees. Demand for training on IT tools soared. CCA courses – with their anytime, anywhere label – became an integral part of the solution and a transforming agent to get employees adapted and trained with new tools and methodologies to effectively continue to perform their jobs (and then more) and provide critical services to County residents.
The Solution: 
As a public agency with detailed and specific procurement processes, the County is deliberate in acquiring IT tools and ensuring its longevity. The County’s addition of diverse, curated learning content offerings from Cornerstone was driven primarily by two key needs. First, the changing face of today’s workforce — specifically the increase in millennials and Gen Zs — with their affinity for online consumption, technology usage, and on-demand access led the organization to update its content offerings. Second, a projected wave of manager retirements over the next five years was driving the need for effective succession planning. Clearly, an active learning culture within its employee base was essential to addressing these factors. 
The L&D team piloted the new LMS home page (Learner Home) – with CCA course playlists, customized course carousels, and recommended course spotlights – to power users from all departments.
The Results: 
With CCA, the overall solution was high-quality, competitively-priced, and eliminated a lot of the manual work sourcing and making content available to employees used to require. “The time savings was huge. That probably would go at the top of the list for me,” Gabe Aponte, the County’s L&D Program Manager remarked. Moreover, the continued growth of courses always gave the team additional content to push out to users. Even small details like artwork for each class offering made a difference in making an employee’s Learner Home more attractive and dynamic, driving higher engagement with course offerings.
In fact, during the first week of working-at-home due to COVID-19, CCA course completions rose more than 450 percent over the launch week as employees refreshed, updated, and expanded their software skills to adapt to the new work environment.
More importantly, with CCA, the ability to carry on continuous learning despite any disruptions faced was and continues to be invaluable. Although the spike in demand for courses has gradually subsided, the need for anywhere, anytime content delivery is here to stay according to the L&D team who understands the future of work is constantly changing and is equipped to deal with the changes head-on with CCA.
Public agencies consider slightly different metrics when determining the ROI of a solution, focusing more on longer-term measurements. First, license utilization over time is important to ensure funds are well-spent and allocated. On this metric, the first year for CCA has been a success with 135 percent of licenses used between March 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Second, feedback is particularly important including if people can utilize course content in their current roles and if they recommend courses to other employees. Feedback during the initial launch of CCA had employees giving strong, positive marks (over 90 percent) on both measures. Evaluation data remains strong over a year from launch, with 85+ percent of completions registering a score of “Good” or better.
In terms of the impact of COVID-19, during the initial Shelter-in-Place order in March 2020, the number of course completions through CCA quadrupled from 274 during the prior two weeks to 839 during the first week that County employees worked from home. The following week, there were 1928 course completions. The number of course completions has leveled off but is significantly higher than before CCA was implemented.
The Technology: 

The County rolled out Cornerstone’s Learner Home (the LMS home page) along with CCA Professional Skills subscription. CCA enabled the County to populate a user’s individualized Learner Home with new and relevant content, helping to drive user interest in taking courses. The County also added a CCA Leadership & Management subscription shortly after, which provided highly-curated content specific to leadership and management skills and challenges.

Disruptive Factor: 
One of the major challenges the County has faced in previous attempts at introducing e-learning has been user adoption. A lack of consistent marketing has led to waning interest from staff, with a “one and done” marketing approach producing diminishing engagement returns. Prior to adopting CCA, the L&D team re-thought how to market these new offerings, moving to a bi-monthly cadence for sending out a countywide L&D newsletter, “Learning Compass.” Banner ads on internal web pages also drove course sign-ups as the team had observed a course being filled with twenty additional employees within a half-day solely due to promotion on a banner ad.
An interesting trend that County L&D team member Erica Zuniga-Lumidao observed was that users gravitated toward short-form content, such as Grovo bite-sized, adaptive micro-learning courses that users can access on their mobile phones as well as TED Talks that impart lessons on topics such as life skills and leadership. Another trend that Zuniga-Lumidao shared was content “bingeing,” where users consume entire playlists of 10–12 courses in one day. As the dust settles with regards to COVID-19, having CCA as part of its learning arsenal enables the County to think beyond the traditional and opens many new doors in terms of today’s workforce’s preferred learning environments, communication channels, course length, etc.
Shining Moment: 

The County of San Mateo was well-positioned to meet the unique workforce development challenges presented by the pandemic, implementing these improvements in early 2020. From the start, the County’s L&D team had taken the lead in providing learning solutions virtually to its workforce. The team has been sharing its experience setting up and utilizing CCA with L&D peers in adjacent counties as they all navigate and embrace the new hybrid learning model.

About The County of San Mateo

Founded: 1856
Size: 455 sq. mi. (land); 292 sq. mi. (water)
Incorporated Cities: 20
Coastline: 57.7 miles
Population: 771,410 (2017)
Unemployment Rate: 2% (2018)
Per Capita Income: $50,262
Median Household Income: $108,627 (2018)
Assessed Value of Property: $206 billion (2017-2018)
Taxable Sales: $15.7 billion
Median Home Value: $1.47 million (2018)